Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Excerpts from the Illustrated Tao Te Ching

In ancient times, the leaders were as subtle as sorcerers.

No one knew what they were about to do.

How can we describe them to you?

They were like soldiers about to cross a cold river,
hesitant, watchful and uncertain.

They were cautious like people who know
there is danger.

They were over-polite, like practised guests.

They gave way like ice, melting.

They were simple like uncarved wood

            They were empty like deserted valleys

They were muddy like unreflecting water.

The mud will settle and it is hard to wait for it

But if you can, then you can act.

If you follow the Tao without pretension

                                    you will never burn yourself out

Learn to yield and be soft

If you want to survive

            Learn to bow

And you will stand in your full height

Learn to empty yourself

                                                and be filled by the Tao

            the way a valley empties itself into a river

            Use up all you are

And then you can be made new

            Learn to have nothing

And you will have everything

Sages always act like this

and are Children of the Tao

Never trying to impress, their being shines forth

Never saying ‘this is it,’ people see what the truth is

Never boasting, they leave the space they can be valued in

And never claiming to be who they are, people can see them

And since they never argue, no one argues with them either

So the ancient ones say
                        ‘Bend, and you will rule’

Is this a lie?  You’ll find it is true

Be true to yourself, and all will go well with you

What is going to be diminished

Must first be allowed to inflate

Whatever you want to weaken

Must first be convinced of its strength

What you want to overcome

You must first of all submit to

What you want to take over

You must first of all give to

This is called discerning

You see, what is yielding and weak

Overcomes what is hard and strong

And just as a fish can’t be seen

When he stays down in the deep

don’t show your power to anyone!

                                                                        Every living thing
                                    Comes from the Mother of Us All:

                                    If we can understand the Mother
                                    Then we can understand her children

And if we know ourselves as children

We can see the source is Her

And well, if your body dies

there’s nothing to be frightened about

If you keep your mouth shut

And stay inside

Then you’ll live a long time

If you blurt out

What you think to everyone

Then you won’t last long

Value littleness.  This is wisdom.

To bend like a reed

                                    in the wind

            that is real strength

Use your mind, but stay close to the light

And it will lengthen its glow
                                                right through your life.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

J.H.E. Partington - Vintage DIY Squatting at Lake Temescal

J.H.E. Partington

From the Oakland Museum's website (now offline):

In 1868 a dam was constructed on Temescal Creek creating Lake Temescal, a reservoir for Oakland's first municipal water supply. The earth dam was dug manually and was packed down by horses driven over it repeatedly. Pipes carried water to people's homes that had previously depended upon their own wells. It was on the banks of Lake Temescal that the immigrant English artist J.H.E. Partington lived in a tent with his family, upon their arrival in Oakland in 1889. In 1891 he established the Partington School of Art in San Francisco along with his son Richard L. Partington.
 Can you do that nowadays?  That sounds pretty cool.

Here's the painting he did when he lived in the tent:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Making versus Growing

The whole of Western thought is profoundly influenced, through and through and through, by the idea that all things, all events, all people, all mountains, all stars, all flowers, all grasshoppers, all worms, everything, are artifacts--they have been made.

And it is, therefore, natural for a Western child to say to its mother, "how was I made?"  That would be quite an unnatural question for a Chinese child, because the Chinese do not think of nature as something made.  They look upon it as something that grows, and the two processes are quite different.

When you make something, you put it together: you assemble parts, or you carve an image out of wood or stone, working from the outside to the inside.  But when you watch something grow, it works in an entirely different way.  It doesn't assemble parts.  It expands from within, and gradually complicates itself, expanding outwards, like a bud blossoming, like a seed turning into a plant.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Dream of Authenticity

Thanks to Jaime Zepeda for his poignant "The Oakland Diss."  Growing up in Oakland is an exercise in fielding criticisms and soothing people's fears.  I've heard similar things from people who grew up in the Caribbean, Louisiana, and West Africa.  

Sylvia A. Harvey (an “Oakland Native and NY Transplant”) asked a great question in the comments on my story "Oakland, Gentrification, and the Hunt for Cool":

You mentioned the recent riots in London, but even that eruption…will it get us what we’re looking for or will we be further demonized?

I’m not sure what Ms. Harvey meant when she said “us” in that comment.  I’ve been pondering over it for a minute.  She could mean “us brown and black folks,” or “us folks from the hood.”  And, if she meant either of those phrases, was she including me in them?  If so, why?

I’ve asked myself questions like these, wondering which people are "my people," since the age of seven, when I moved into an apartment in North Oakland, just a few steps away from, among other things, a drug rehabilitation center for teenagers, a public high school (my alma mater), a nursing home, an upper-crust elementary school (my alma mater and that of celebrity kids like Michael Pollan’s boy), and, now, a very popular restaurant that sells only macaroni and cheese.  There was also, it’s rumored, an abortion clinic that was torched by a wayward young survivalist like the one who shot at the police last year near the MacArthur Maze.

So there was a lot of…slippage, if you like, in this particular spot.  It was not necessarily "racially integrated" or "diverse" in any systemic way, but it was definitely a hodgepodge, and that was positive.  I remember people playing Zapp and Roger at full blast outside my house when I was growing up, sparking my love of the synthesizer drum.  If I took the 51 bus home from school (when I was going to middle school in Berkeley), I’d be mostly with Cal students and white people.  And if I took the 40 or 40L bus down Telegraph, going parallel to the 51, I was completely surrounded by black people.

It was the most bizarre thing.  I actually liked the 40 better, because the people were less noisy and there was less traffic.  People said thank you to the bus driver. 

For most of my childhood I had fostered, mindlessly, a resentment toward black people, believing, with all the common sense of a child raised in the “post-crime” Clinton Beanie Baby Years, that black people were the cause, origin and final destination of all crime, all the time.  I feared, resented, and wish I was Blackness.  Like probably most young boys, I idolized rappers and wished that I could be as feared as they appeared to be.  It seemed like the darker-skinned rappers, like DMX, the Notorious B.I.G., and Tupac Shakur, were the most feared, the baddest men of them all.  

My little mind corroborated this “insight” with the incident I saw one night on the grand front steps of the Scottish Rite Center, as I sang as a choir boy in the yearly Christmas Revels, headlined by the buffoon Geoff Hoyle.  I remember my face was hot with makeup, designed to reflect the scorching-hot stage spotlights, and I heard a woman screaming outside, across the street from Lake Merritt.  I stepped into the doorway and saw two men, of dark complexion, running away past me.  She was screaming like they’d taken her dignity itself. 

I don't understand why she was chasing them, still.  Maybe it's the same reason I was chasing them?  Chasing some kind of dream of authenticity.

The dream of authenticity appears, to 'white folks,' as the antidote to the dream of safety which is, Baldwin wrote, 'Death within life.'  White people seek out 'authentic experiences' (Cf. Grizzly Man and Into the Wild) as a means of counteracting the will-destroying, soul-crushing doldrums that are side-effects of the kind of surgery effected by the 'suburban lifestyle,' which is marked by the use of automobiles for every life task and a constant sense of where-are-my-keys paranoia over things like "crime," "privacy," and "preparedness."  Of course one should be prepared, but there is no boundary between life and death: souls pass into the air every moment with every spin of the earth, and that's part of life.  Ultimately one does not prepare oneself to save lives, but to make one's own life happy, prosperous, and, most of all, enjoyable, by living in the midst of bounty with gratitude.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

From the James Baldwin archives - a note to his brother David

"The definition of the word, repetition - which is the key to music and the key to all that we call Art - has nothing to do with what the Western world imagines itself to be saying when they use this word. The sound is repeated because it was not heard the first time. The drummer hopes to make not himself but you heard."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

“They’re all broken when you get them.”

- My Grandma, to my aunt, about husbands

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tikkun Olam, an old untranslatable Hebrew phrase.

It could be translated as:

To establish a world.
To fix what is broken.


To tend to eternity.